On dreams

“You are young, Ila. You can dream,” says Mr. Fernandes to Ila in a letter.

In the second half of The Lunchbox, the 30-year old Ila invites the 60-something Mr. Fernandes to meet her at a cafe. The two have been exchanging letters for a few weeks. Ila turns up at the cafe and anxiously waits for Mr. Fernandes, but Mr. Fernandes does not appear. The next day, in a letter to her, Mr. Fernandes explains that he did go to the cafe, but when he saw Ila, the fact that she is more than half his age struck him deep. He sat at another table in the cafe, carefully observing her waiting anxiously for him. After a while, he left. Mr. Fernandes writes that he realises he is far too old to have a love relationship now. His wife is dead, he is going to retire in a few days, and he is all set for a placid existence in his hometown. An introvert, he has no friends and is not interested in any either. “You are young, Ila. You can dream,” he writes to the 30-year old woman for who he has come to mean something special.

irfan khan lunchbox

Ila, a middle-class housewife, is stuck in a loveless marriage. Her husband does not deliberately trouble her, but has no concern for her either. He leaves home early and returns late, and Ila realises he is having an affair with another woman. Ila spends the day cooking, washing and looking after the needs of her little school-going daughter. Bored, unloved and suffocated in a tiny house in a crowded, dilapidating building,  Ila does not see a future for herself that she would like to live.

But in the last few weeks, she has struck a strange, serendipitous friendship with Mr. Fernandes, an accountant in a government office, a widower, and a loner. Both exchange letters through a lunchbox, and gradually, their lives change. Ila tells Mr. Fernandes about her loveless marriage, her husband’s affair, and the death of her father. Mr. Fernandes writes to her about his dead wife, his smoking habit, and gives her sane advice on dealing with her life issues.

Gradually, Ila starts to dream of leaving everything and settling down in Bhutan. “Over there, they have Gross National Happiness, not Gross Domestic Product,” she writes to Mr. Fernandes. One day, going against her middle-class ethos, she suggests that she and Mr. Fernandes meet, and perhaps take things forward. But Mr. Fernandes steps back.

In this time, however, a new self in Ila has opened up. She no longer feels helplessly chained to her daily routine as a bored, betrayed housewife going through the motions without passion or hope. Ila decides to act. In her last letter to Mr. Fernandes, Ila writes, “I’ve sold all my jewellery, and with the money I got,  I’m leaving with my daughter for Bhutan.” Mr. Fernandes, however, is full of regret. He realises that for him, Ila was the only possibility of love in a loveless life. He goes looking for Ila, but Ila has left. The film ends.

nimrat kaur lunchbox

In the few weeks of the lives of these two people that the film captures, an unfulfilled, loveless housewife, shackled to her existence, begins to feel the courage and the zest for life to break away from the chains that bind her. And an aloof, emotionally dead but mechanically alive man feels a glimmer of desire. They never meet, but they change each other. From being dominated by the rigidity and fear that convention brings, they begin to be moved by hope and the possibility of joy. Perhaps they change each other precisely because they never meet, for meeting would bring in all too human frailties that create new shackles.

Will Ila manage to reach Bhutan? Does she have enough money to start a new life with her daughter? Will she clear the legal hassles of settling down in a new country? What about the culture shock that awaits her? And is Bhutan really all that happy? All these questions don’t matter. What matters is that a new zest for living has taken birth in her. The fears of breaking convention, of upsetting family and society, of doing something new – taking the road less travelled, do not dictate her life, although they will perhaps never go away completely. The strange relationship with Mr. Fernandes has opened up a new part of her. “You are young, Ila. You can dream,” he wrote. And she did.

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~ by tdcatss on October 1, 2013.

6 Responses to “On dreams”

  1. very nicely captured observations, i liked the way you have described this movie, after reading this review though full of spoilers, i will watch it :)

  2. :) .. it’s not meant to be a review :P

  3. hehe, i watched it, a sweet movie indeed… I liked it a lot, there was something natural in their conversations…. but film has an open ending, they doesn’t show Mr. Fernandez not finding her, or she leaving for bhutan without meeting mr. fernandez, but as you said that doesn’t matter, they both are changed now. :)

  4. strange how we both understood it differently

  5. The open ended climax kinda made it even more special, don’t you think? i thoroughly enjoyed this movie, touching and yet not in a heavy way, it had its light moments. in all, i found it very beautiful.

  6. yes, i totally agree that an open ended climax made it more evocative. they never meet, yet they meet in their inner worlds. they don’t live happily ever after, but they do begin to seek happiness – something they didn’t earlier.

    that end stays far more in my memory and heart than then meeting up and becoming a couple.

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